Sunday, July 31, 2011

It All Started With a Cake...

This past week has been a busy one getting ready for my baby's (sob) birthday. He turned ten today, double digits. It's still hard for me to believe my once little bald baby (he was the only one without hair), has turned into such a great kid.

*No baby pictures since those are all print, not digital. I'm tempted to hire someone to put our boxes and boxes of print pictures on CDs. Hmmm...might just be a job for the teen. :)

About the cake... a few weeks ago I told youngest he needed to get his birthday wish list to me soon so I could start shopping. The topic of cakes came up and I asked him what kind of cake he wanted. Last year I made a castle cake and I was hoping this year I'd get to do something a little easier. Turns out he didn't want me to make his cake he wanted "that Cake Boss guy" to make his cake. LOL I had to break the bad news to him that the possibility was pretty slim and he should stick with me. Now, I should give a little background on youngest, he loves the video game Minecraft. He talks about it all the time and I mean all the time. So he tells me he would like a Creeper cake. What's a Creeper you ask? It's this green thing from Minecraft that blows up. So I Googled and found tons of Creeper info and what started with a request for a cake snowballed into everything Creeper...

             Here's youngest with his Creeper themed presents.

I'm not a crafty kind of person but most of this was pretty easy to do. I just printed the Creeper eyes and mouth and glued them on. The t-shirt was the most difficult because I had to make the template, iron it on, paint and hope that the lines stayed straight and the paint didn't bleed under the stencil. I can't tell you how stressful this was. LOL After making the t-shirt, the cake was easy. :)

                               Youngest with his cake.

I decided to only make the Creeper face on the cake since we were going to my mom's and I had to take the cake there. I did find instructions for making a full size Creeper but it takes 2 cakes, 1 for the body and 1 for the legs and head. Thankfully he liked this one just fine. :)

I now have one month until middle's birthday. He said he would like a Wizard 101 themed birthday. o_0 At least the teen is easy - she just wants books and cash. LOL

Are you all having a great summer or getting stuck in the heat waves? I can't believe some parts of the US have actually been hotter than here in Arizona!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Heartbreak Creek

Heartbreak Creek
Kaki Warner
Historical Western
Runaway Brides/Book 1
Berkley/July 5, 2011

From the back cover ~

Edwina Ladoux hoped becoming a mail-order bride would be her way out of the war- torn South and into a better life, but as soon as she arrives in Heartbreak Creek, Colorado, and meets her hulking, taciturn groom, she realizes she's made a terrible mistake.

Declan Brodie already had one flighty wife who ran off with a gambler before being killed by Indians. He's hoping this new one will be a practical, sturdy farm woman who can help with chores and corral his four rambunctious children. Instead, he gets a skinny Southern princess who doesn't even know how to cook.

Luckily, Edwina and Declan agreed on a three-month courtship period, which should give them time to get the proxy marriage annulled. Except that as the weeks pass, thoughts of annulment turn into hopes for a real marriage-until Declan's first wife returns after being held captive for the last four years. Now an honorable man must choose between duty and desire, and a woman who's never had to fight for anything must do battle for the family she's grown to love...

Many of you know how much I love a good western romance. After reading and enjoying Ms. Warner's Blood Rose trilogy, to say I was looking forward to her newest release was putting it mildly. One of my absolute favorite romance tropes is the mail-order-bride trope. If I read a blurb mentioning mail-order-bride, I'm there. For me, it's the ultimate in the romantic fantasy of trusting in fate and falling in love.

Southern belle Edwina Ladoux has lost just about everything. Her home, almost all of her family and her way of life. But she's ready to start a new life as the mail-order-bride of a man she only knows through his letters. Along with her best friend and half-sister Prudence (Pru), they head west. Edwina is a woman who can give the outward appearance of a delicate and proper lady but when she wants something she can be as stubborn as a mule! Edwina and Delcan don't make the best first impressions on each other. She thinks he's too big and too rough and he thinks she has some crazy ideas.

Declan Brodie is rough around the edges with a sweet and gentle inside. He loves his four rambunctious children and he loves his ranch. But he can't run a ranch and take care of the kids and the house too. Declan is nothing if not practical so he advertises in the Matrimonial News no less.

Honest, hard-working widower, age thirty-three, seeks sturdy English-speaking woman to help with mountain ranch and four children. Drinkers, whores, and gamblers need not apply.

How could Edwina possibly pass up a request like that? Except Ed, as Declan calls her, after first calling her Miss Priss, Declan doesn't think Ed has what it takes to take care of the children and house. He thinks she's too fragile and she can't even cook! Imagine! LOL Good think Pru is there to cook and teach Ed. Declan's impression of Ed slowly changes as he watches her take on the task of corralling his children's wild ways and learning about ranch life.

Ed and Declan were so very good together! They tease and irritate each other while they're busy checking each other out. I loved how Warner developed the romance, letting Ed and Declan discover that their first impressions only showed the surface and there was a lot more going on underneath. There's one scene where Declan realizes that he doesn't just need a wife, he needs Ed. For Ed, she not only fell in love with Declan, she also fell in love with his children which was important since the are so much a part of him. Some of the best scenes were with Ed and the children. These kids had personality and certainly added humor and emotion to the story.

The secondary characters that populate the town of Heartbreak Creek are a wonderful mix of typical small town folk and a couple of newcomers who liven the place up. Maddie Wallace and Lucinda Hathaway arrived on the same train as Ed and Pru. The four women become fast friends and share advice, experience and encouragement on their new lives. I know we'll see much more of both Maddie and Lucinda in coming books.

Ranch life isn't easy but for Declan and Ed, it's made even more difficult with a crazy man out to get revenge against Declan. Looking back, there was a lot going on in addition to Ed and Declan getting to know each other. Lots of upheaval with threats to everyone Declan cared about. Then throw in the once-thought-dead wife come back to life and damn but they had a heck of a lot to overcome. Yet, I never felt that it took away from the romance. If anything, it brought Declan and Ed closer together. There was just the right balance of romance, humor, suspense and teasing for future books.

Heartbreak Creek is a beautifully told historical western romance. We need more books like this! Thankfully, Ms. Warner has more on the way.

Rating: A

Books in this series ~

Heartbreak Creek
Colorado Dawn (January 2012)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

ARC Review: One Good Reason

One Good Reason
Sarah Mayberry
Contemporary Romance
Sequel to The Last Goodbye
Harlequin/August 1, 2011

From Goodreads ~

It's time to move on...

Any day now Jon Adamson will pack his bags and hit the road. After all, his intention was never to hang around Melbourne once he’d settled his late father’s affairs. Yet he hasn’t moved on. And it might have something to do with Gabby Wade. The not-so-big office manager with the really big attitude is making Jon’s days…interesting…engaging…fun. It’s impossible for him to resist her.

But he knows himself—long-term commitments and cozy family dinners aren’t his style. If that’s what the future holds, why is he still here? And why is he spending all his days—and nights—with Gabby? Because maybe she’s the one reason strong enough to make him stay.

What if you discovered that all you ever wanted were the things you’d left behind?

After reading about Jon's brother Tyler in The Last Goodbye, I was looking forward to finding out more about Jon, and Gabby too. I was also hoping Jon and Gabby's story would have more romance. They still have emotional issues to get through but the story isn't as dark as The Last Goodbye and Jon and Gabby are cute together!

Gabby Wade is a petite, feisty woman who works in an office of all men. She's not much for dressing up, preferring casual wear for her job as office manager of T. A. Furniture Designs. It's not surprising that Gabby gets along well with men, since she's used to working with them, but for some reason Jon just rubs her the wrong way. They're squabbling is amusing, each giving as good as they get. Lots of sexual tension going on here! I liked that Gabby didn't suddenly do a 180° and ditch her jeans and t-shirt for skirts and heels. It's more a gradual realization that she's stopped caring about how she looks. It's the fallout of her breakup with Tyler, Jon's brother, nearly four years ago. Once Gabby is honest with herself and how she feels, you see her start to hope for something lasting with Jon.

Jon Adamson is a strong, silent type. Very silent. He's fighting his demons and while he's not losing the battle, he's not really winning either. It's a daily struggle that Mayberry puts him through. The oddly bright spot in his days is Gabby Wade. Odd because on the surface they don't get along but in spite of that they're developing a relationship based on mutual like and respect. Mayberry puts Jon in limbo. He's working for his brother but he doesn't plan on staying. But he sold his company in Canada so he has nothing to go back to there. He really has no plans but you see him slowly thinking that maybe he could have something with Gabby.

Mayberry lets Gabby and Jon's relationship develop naturally, with some interference from Tyler and Ally but that's to be expected since they love and care about both Gabby and Jon. The way Mayberry woven in the two couples and their relationships really worked. I thought I might have a problem with Gabby having been Tyler's lover then her being with Jon. But Mayberry had me believing that while Gabby still had feeling for Tyler, they were that of close friends, not of a lost love. Gabby's feelings for Jon ran much deeper. There was a small issue of Gabby thinking she was still in love with Tyler, then falling for Jon happening rather quickly. To have such strong emotions change so quickly didn't ring completely true for me.

In the end, Gabby and Jon get their Happily Ever After that they both worked so hard for. This couple really clicked for me. They came across as a real couple with real issues. They had a rocky start that led to both of them facing some hard facts about what they really want in life. A very sweet, romantic story.

Rating: B+

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: The Last Goodbye

The Last Goodbye
Sarah Mayberry
Contemporary Romance
Harlequin Super/February 8, 2011

From Goodreads ~

Ally Bishop knows the settling kind when she sees one. And Tyler Adamson is definitely one. Ordinarily this never-in-one-place-long girl would stay far, far away. Maybe it's the way he looks in jeans, or the way he looks at her, but suddenly Ally is breaking her own rules with dizzying speed. All that Australian temptation right next door…well, there's only so much resistance one girl can have.

As she dives into a fling with Tyler, Ally assures herself she can maintain perspective. After all, he's only here long enough to care for his ailing father. That gives them a time limit, right? With each passing day, however, she falls for Tyler more. And soon she has the strongest urge to unpack her suitcase and stay a while.

This has been in the TBR pile for a few months and while I love Sarah Mayberry, I didn't pick it up until I requested One Good Reason from NetGalley and realized the hero was the brother of the hero in The Last Goodbye. So of course I had to read this before I read that. Makes sense, no?

This story had a lot of emotional baggage. It was a boatload full for both the hero and heroine. Different, but similar. He's from an abusive home, she's never really had a permanent home. Both are still working through it in their own way. For Ally, it means not putting down roots but staying mobile by house sitting. A few months here, a few months there. Her job as a advice columnist allows her to work from anywhere, so she does. She meets Tyler when she searchers him out to let him know that his father, her neighbor, is ill. Ally is a very positive person - upbeat and kind. She's one of those people that's easy to like. The only thing that really bugged me about her was her insistence in her "gypsy" heritage. Not that her family were gypsies but that her mom traveled/roamed a lot. Never staying in one place. Ally uses that as an excuse to continuing moving. It's an excuse to not form ties with anyone, keeping her chances of pain and disappointment at a minimum. She's a smart woman, so why doesn't she realize she's not her mother?

Tyler is a successful designer of custom furniture. He has a thriving business. The one thing he doesn't have is a family. He was never really close to his older brother who lives in Canada and hasn't talked to his father in ten years. All that changes when Ally shows up and brings Tyler's past to the present. He doesn't make a very good first impression on Ally, telling her that he doesn't want anything to do with his father. Wow. But she leaves an impression on him. Tyler is a hero that doesn't like the spotlight and has is conflicted when it comes to helping his father. Mayberry does a good job showing how Tyler wants to just walk away from his father, who would try the patience of a saint, but Tyler is a decent person and can't walk away. Tyler puts up with a lot while taking care of his father and it helps that Ally's there to ease the way.

Ally and Tyler's relationship gets off to a rocky start. There is something there but Mayberry doesn't make it easy for them. Both have issues to work through before they can have a healthy relationship. Tyler's issues made more sense than Ally's. Her's didn't seem so hard to overcome and I felt like she used them more as an excuse than any great fear of commitment. I did like how she helped Tyler break down that wall of silence. He really didn't like talking about his feelings and his past.

The Last Goodbye isn't one of my favorites from Mayberry. It's a little too dark with not enough lighter moments to balance it out. The romance wasn't the main focus, instead, Tyler's messed up relationship and unresolved issues with his father took center stage.

Rating: B-

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TBR Challenge Review: A Kiss at Midnight

A Kiss at Midnight
Eloisa James
Historical Romance
Happily Ever After/Book 1
Avon/August 1, 2010

From Goodreads ~

Miss Kate Daltry doesn't believe in fairy tales . . . or happily ever after.

Forced by her stepmother to attend a ball, Kate meets a prince . . . and decides he's anything but charming. A clash of wits and wills ensues, but they both know their irresistible attraction will lead nowhere. For Gabriel is promised to another woman—a princess whose hand in marriage will fulfill his ruthless ambitions.

Gabriel likes his fiancée, which is a welcome turn of events, but he doesn't love her. Obviously, he should be wooing his bride-to-be, not the witty, impoverished beauty who refuses to fawn over him.

Godmothers and glass slippers notwithstanding, this is one fairy tale in which destiny conspires to destroy any chance that Kate and Gabriel might have a happily ever after.

Unless a prince throws away everything that makes him noble . . .

Unless a dowry of an unruly heart trumps a fortune . . .

Unless one kiss at the stroke of midnight changes everything.

After reading and loving my first Eloisa James novel, Beauty Tamed the Beast, I was looking forward to read the first book in the series. Fate smiled on me with the suggested theme for this month challenge as Fairy Tales. Perfect since A Kiss at Midnight has the Cinderella theme.

Miss Katherine Daltry aka Kate is likely to be mistaken for a servant rather than a family member. She has taken over the duties of running the manor ever since her father died and looking like a lady is the last thing on her mind. The first impression one might have of Kate is that she lets her stepmother push her around. But that's not completely accurate. Kate works as hard as she does because she cares for the staff and the tenants of the estate. Her stepmother would like to do away with most of them, and has let quite a few go already. I liked that Kate is not portrayed as a pushover. She's certainly not meek but when she goes to the Prince's castle, she out of her element. Maybe that's why she gave in to him so easily. She knew he was engaged and no marriage proposal was possible but she felt this was her one chance at love, if only for a night.

Prince Gabriel gives a first impression of being a bit bookish. He's an archaeologist and would rather be working a dig than residing over a castle. His attraction to Kate is due in part because of her lack of knowledge of the proper etiquette when in the presence of royalty. She has a tendency to say what's on her mind and Gabriel finds her refreshing and a challenge. But he must marry for money and is engaged to a Princess. Here's where I started having problems. Gabriel's princess is due to arrive any day. It's an arranged marriage, they haven't met but Gabriel is determined to do "his duty". But he still seduces Kate, knowing she's a virgin he assures her he won't take her virginity. Nope, he'll just get her, and himself naked. But no sex. *rolls eyes*. Yeah, how long do you think that lasted? He even got to where he was begging Kate for sex (this is after they had sex, but only for that one special night) because he just had to have her. This is after his fiancé had arrived at the castle and he's met her and she's nice!

The overall story and the writing are well done but I had a hard time with Gabriel's motives and I just didn't like him. I get that he was conflicted with his duty to his family and people and his feelings for Kate but it felt too much like he used her. When he drags Kate into the maze to have sex, after just dancing with his fiancé, that was the final straw for me. As far as I was concerned, this was no prince charming.

On the brighter side, I did like Kate's fairy godmother Henry, short for Henrietta. She was a hoot! She said what was on her mind and helped guide Kate through her venture into society. I did like the story but would have enjoyed it far more had Gabriel behaved more like a gentleman rather than a scoundrel. If you can overlook his behavior, then this fairy tale might be for you.

Rating: C+

Book in this series ~

A Kiss at Midnight
When Beauty Tamed the Beast
This Duke of Mine (2012)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Unforgivable

Laura Griffin
Romantic Suspense
Tracers/Book 3
Pocket/December 1, 2010

From the back cover ~


At first, Mia Voss thinks it’s just bad luck when her already lousy day ends with a carjacking, but what seems like a random incident is followed by another sinister episode. A DNA expert, Mia has made it her mission to put away vicious criminals. Suddenly, she’s become the target of one. And the only way to protect the people she loves most is to deliberately destroy her reputation and risk letting a killer walk free.

Once, Mia trusted Detective Ric Santos, but that was before Ric let his turbulent past ruin his chances with Mia, the sexiest, most intriguing woman he’s ever met. But he can tell when she’s lying—and when she’s scared. The key to catching a sadistic madman lies within a long-buried cold case that has haunted Mia for years. Only she can uncover the truth, but first, Ric will have to get her to entrust him with her secrets . . . and her life.

With the third book in this series, two previous secondary characters take center stage. I was happy to see both Mia and Ric again. I was curious because in the previous book, Unspeakable, there was a hint of a romance brewing between these two but I didn't feel any sexual tension. Attraction, yes, but both are such workaholics that neither gave the impression they had time for romance. So I wanted to see how Griffin would pull that off.

Mia Voss is brilliant in her chosen field and spends much of her time at her lab at the Delphi Center. She career driven but a part of her still holds the dream of marrying and having a family. I liked her but I didn't find her easy to connect with. I did find the DNA knowledge fascinating and as I got to know Mia, mainly through her work, I began to get her and understand what drove her.

Ric Santos is not the settling down kind of guy. Been there, done that. He's of the belief that cops make bad husbands. And that a cops life is too hard on a marriage. Which is why he backed off from Mia months ago when things started getting serious. Now they're working together and Ric's feeling for Mia are growing stronger than ever. It's kind of funny how scared Ric is of commitment. I get why, he had a messy divorce and has sworn off serious relationships. But it's like he's got the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Devil telling him to stay far away from Mia. The angel telling him to stay close and protect her not just because he's a cop but because he cares for her. A lot. This guy is so conflicted when it comes to Mia.

Mia and Ric together are not a perfect couple by any means. At the beginning, I didn't get the sense they were right for each other. This relationship took a lot of hard work before I believed in it. And I think that's what made it much more valuable rather than a relationship based solely on physical attraction. Griffin made me believe that Mia and Ric really did care for each other.

The suspense is intense at times with Mia literally coming under fire, threatened and fearing for her loved ones. This woman is stressed out. Then she has to deal with her feelings for Ric, when she still doesn't know why he stopped seeing her months ago. Ric is kept busy trying to figure out who is trying to hurt Mia and why while wrestling with his feelings for her. There were a lot of tense scenes with little down time. It kept the pace moving and me guessing who was behind the plot. I will say Mia made some questionable decisions. This intelligent woman didn't always display that intelligence outside the lab. And Ric's stubbornness about sharing any part of himself with Mia and his anti-relationship stance got old. But in the end love conquered all.

Unforgivable has a good mix of both suspense and romance. The focus on DNA investigating makes for interesting reading if you like that type of stuff. The next book is Snapped, coming out August 30. It will feature two more secondary characters who had some interaction in Unforgivable. I like what I've seen of both characters and have hopes that this heroine will shake things up, keeping the hero on his toes.

Rating: B+

Books in this series ~

Snapped (August 30, 2011)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

June Reads...

I've been catching up on Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter series by listening to the audio books for Archangel's Kiss and Archangel's Consort. In doing so, I also checked out Ms. Singh's website for more info and saw the cute chibis above. The artist has chosen to remain anonymous but whoever the artists is, let me just say they are adorable and thank you for sharing with Nalini's fans. :) Can you guys tell who's who?

The June Reads...

Audio Books

1. Across the Universe ~ Beth Revis/YA/SCIFI/A-
2. Archangel's Kiss ~ Nalini Singh/PNR/A-
3. Opposite of Invisible ~ Liz Gallagher/YA/B
4. Sudden Death ~ Allison Brennan/RS/C

Across the Universe is very good. It's scifi with a bit of romance but mostly it's an emotional read with an interesting female lead.

Archangel's Kiss ~ I'm so glad I got back into this series! The audio books are very good. Justine Eyre is the narrator and she does an amazing job, giving all the characters distinct voices.

Opposite of Invisible was a sweet, short look at young love and how confusing it can be.

Sudden Death was okay. Not exactly memorable.

Print/Electronic Books

1. When Beauty Tamed the Beast ~ Eloisa James/Historical/A+
2. Where She Went ~ Gayle Forman/YA/A
3. Yours to Keep ~ Shannon Stacey/Contemporary/A
4. Magic Slays ~ Ilona Andrews/UF/A-
5. Exclusively Yours ~ Shannon Stacey/Contemporary/A-
6. Face of Danger ~ Roxanne St. Claire/RS/A-
7. Truth & Consequences ~ Linda Winfree/RS/A-
8. Cover Me ~ Catherine Mann/RS/B+
9. Undeniably Yours ~ Shannon Stacey/Contemporary/B+
10. Atlantis Redeemed ~ Alyssa Day/PNR/B
11. Entwined ~ Elisabeth Naughton/PNR/B
12. Unforgivable ~ Laura Griffin/RS/Review to follow
13. The Heir ~ Grace Burrowes/Historical/Review to follow

The Numbers...

Contemporary ~ 3
Historical ~ 2
Paranormal Romance ~ 2
Romantic Suspense ~ 4
Urban Fantasy ~ 1
Young Adult ~ 1


Print ~ 7
E-book ~ 6

I'd say a very good month. Not one dud in the bunch! So many of these are either authors I've enjoyed in the past or recommends from the blogverse. I would say the standouts are the Eloisa James (Love House!) and the Shannon Stacey series. Highly recommended both authors.

Question about ratings ~ For a long time, I've been rating books using alpha ratings (see right sidebar) but it doesn't easily transfer to Goodreads and Amazon. (Really wish they would allow 1/2 stars). So I'm thinking of switching to numbers, maybe that would be easier. What do you all prefer?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Magic Slays

Magic Slays
Ilona Andrews
Urban Fantasy
Kate Daniels/Book 5
ACE/June 1, 2011

*Spoilers for Previous Books*

From the back cover ~

Plagued by a war between magic and technology, Atlanta has never been so deadly. Good thing Kate Daniels is on the job.

Kate Daniels may have quit the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, but she's still knee-deep in paranormal problems. Or she would be if she could get someone to hire her. Starting her own business has been more challenging than she thought it would be - now that the Order is disparaging her good name. Plus, many potential clients are afraid of getting on the bad side of the Beast Lord, who just happens to be Kate's mate.

So when Atlanta's premier Master of the Dead asks for help with a vampire on the loose, Kate leaps at the chance of some paying work. But it turns out that this is not an isolated incident. Kate needs to get to the bottom of it - and fast, or the city and everyone dear to her may pay the ultimate price...

This is a series that not only continues to grow and develop but stays fresh and keeps the reader engaged in the characters lives. In Magic Slays, Kate and Curran are both still fairly new at this "mate" thing. They are adjusting to living together at the Keep. The adjustments Kate makes are more obvious but Curran has some adjusting to do too.

It's been a month since Kate opened her business, Cutting Edge Investigations and to say things have been slow is an understatement. That's about to change when Kate finds herself in the thick of blood, guts and what may be a whole shitload of trouble. Thankfully she's not alone. Her BFF Andrea shows up looking for work and Kate, being no one's fool, hires her. Yes! Love the friendship and camaraderie that Kate and Andrea share. The banter between Kate and Andrea is that of good friends with a long history. I enjoy seeing this side of Kate, she's more relaxed.

Circumstances heat up fast when Kate comes under attack. There were a number of players this time around, some new, but Andrews keeps everything following in a nice orderly fashion so I had no problem keeping track of who's who. One new secondary character had the name Leslie. My name. Now, I rarely see my name in books so I was thrilled when I saw it here. Then as the story progressed, not so thrilled. As you can guess, Leslie isn't very nice. Oh well. We do get to see a favorite character of mine, Saiman. There are some shady dealings going on and wouldn't you know it, Saiman just happens to be involved. Kate and Saiman have a tenuous relationship, given that Curran has some violent tendencies when it comes to Saiman. But it's fun to see Kate and Saiman interact with Saiman having a healthy fear of Curran and Kate thinking Saiman is a bit nuts.

There are small, quiet moments in amongst the fighting, bleeding and dying. One such moment is when Kate is having a hell of a week and Curran isn't there with her but he's left her a message. ~

I took my scraps of paper, headed upstairs and dialed 1000. Curran's voice filled the room. "Hey. It's me."

I landed in the chair. Hearing him was like coming home in a downpour and finding the lights on and the house warm. I was in so deep, I couldn't even see the surface anymore.

Kate's totally gone over Curran but she's at the point where she's finally okay with it. Lord knows she fought it long enough but now she's actually getting comfortable being the mate of the Beast Lord. That's not to say she still doesn't have some issues but ultimately, she loves him. Period.

We see not only Kate and Curran's relationship progressing but also Kate's relationship with her adopted daughter Julie. Julie can be a handful but she's a teen and has more than her share of teen issues. Kate only wants the best for Julie and to keep her safe. I love how Julie brings out those maternal instincts in Kate. She's certainly come a long way since the beginning of the series when she was more of a loner badass. Now she's a badass with a mate and a kid!

Kate also discovers more of her family history which leaves her stunned. It's a revelation that came at the right time for Kate. She now has a lot of support around her and doesn't have to deal with the family drama alone. I really like how the progression of Kate's world of family and friends has developed. Relationships are not easy for her but she's smart enough to realize how important these people are to her.

There are plenty of big bads in Kate's world and Andrews continues to pull myths from various cultures and blend them into one fascinating and believable creation. I'm always excited to see who might show up next in the fight. And those fight scenes are some of my favorites. In Magic Slays there are plenty of well choreographed fights but there are also heartbreaking scenes of pain and loss. It is, at times, a very emotional read.

Magic Slays is everything you'd want in a story. There is love, friendship, family, action and humor. I can't wait to see where Kate, Curran and the gang lead us next.

Rating: A

Books in this series ~

Magic Bites
Magic Burns
Magic Strikes
Magic Mourns (Must Love Hellhounds anthology)
Magic Bleeds
Magic Dreams (Hexed anthology)
Magic Slays

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ARC Review: Cover Me

Cover Me
Catherine Mann
Romantic Suspense
Elite Force/Book 1
Sourcebooks/July 5, 2011

From the back cover ~

It Should Have Been A Simple Mission...

Pararescueman Wade Rocha fast ropes form the back of a helicopter into a blizzard to save a climber stranded on an Aleutian Island, but Sunny Foster insists she can take care of herself just fine...

But When It Comes To Passion, Nothing Is Ever Simple...

With the snowstorm kicking into overdrive, Sunny and Wade hunker down in a cave and barely resist the urge to keep each other warm... until they discover the frozen remains of a horrific crime...

Unable to trust the shady local police force, Sunny and Wade investigate, While their irresistible passion for each other gets them more and more dangerously entangled...

First off - Air Force Pararescue. I don't think I've ever read a novel where the hero was a pararescueman. Can I just say, it's about time! I found the whole life of the pararescueman fascinating. They live this type of nomadic lifestyle, having to be on-call and in Wade's case, never really putting down roots. Add in the striking Alaskan location and you have an enticing story.

Wade Rocha is surprised and a bit confused when he rescues what he thinks is a stranded hiker in the Alaskan wilderness. It turns out the woman is more than capable of taking care of herself and her dog Chewie. Wade's a good guy and tries to help this odd woman who doesn't want his help. It was an interesting dynamic - having this military superhero attempt to rescue someone who could actually teach him a thing or two about survival. Wade tries to draw Sunny out but he knows she hiding something.

Sunny Foster is not happy to see a man falling out of the sky during a blizzard. She wants to get rid of him but for now, she's stuck with him. Sunny has too many secrets and the last thing she wants is the military finding them out. Sunny is a character that is really smart when it comes to wilderness and survival but not so much when it comes to dealing with men and the world outside her small, isolated community. She had a couple of TSTL moments that showed not only how desperate she was to keep her secrets but how sheltered her life has been.

Wade and Sunny together burn up the sheets, and rather fast. I was a little surprised at how fast they fell for each other, especially when Sunny wants so desperately to keep her secrets. A number of things make it impossible for Sunny to go home quickly and instead she ends up at Wade's. With temptation so close at hand, is it any wonder they give in. The romance was fairly predictable but sweet and sexy.

I did like the camaraderie that Wade and the men of his team had. They have that teasing, brotherly feel that is so common among those that risk their lives on a nearly daily basis. You feel the respect they have for each other and for the work that they do. I really do like military heroes. :)

The suspense and action of the story kept a decent pace, giving the reader a few twists and turns, ending with a fast paced action filled conclusion. Some of it was a little over the top with the villain so very villainy that I had to laugh at some of his actions. Sunny's family also make appearances, complicating matters and filling in some of her back story, giving a glimpse of her life growing up.

Cover Me is an action filled romance with a hero and heroine who don't always see eye to eye, who face difficult, dangerous situations and over come them to find their HEA. Catherine Mann also has an extensive back list of single title and category romances to dig into while waiting for the next book in the Elite Forces series.

Rating: B+

Books in this series ~

Cover Me
Hot Zone (December 2011)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: Yours to Keep

Yours to Keep
Shannon Stacey
Contemporary Romance
Kowalski Family/Book 3
Carina Press/June 3, 2011

From the author's website ~

Sean Kowalski no sooner leaves the army than he’s recruited by Emma Shaw to be her fake fiancé. Emma needs to produce a husband-to-be for her grandmother’s upcoming visit, and, though Sean doesn’t like the deception, he could use the landscaping job Emma’s offering while he decides what to do with his civilian life. And, despite his attraction to Emma, there’s no chance he’ll fall for a woman with deep roots in a town he’s not planning to call home.

Emma’s not interested in a real relationship either; not with a man whose idea of home is wherever he drops his duffel bag. No matter how amazing his “pretend” kisses are…

The Kowalskis are back! This time around it's another branch of the family that's in the spotlight. It turns out there is a Maine branch of the Kowalski family and they have some potential leading characters in their family tree. But first up is Sean. He heads to his cousin's place in New Hampshire to crash for a while and decide what to do with his life after the army. Instead of something long term, he decides to help out a stranger, a very sexy, with a little crazy thrown in, stranger.

Emma Shaw sure knows how to dig a hole. She own her own landscape company but the hole she dug is based on lies. It started with a boyfriend then progressed to a fiance'. Now Emma's grandma is coming for a visit and Emma has to produce this man that's she madly in love with. Enter Sean Kowalski. Why Sean? Well, it turns out Emma is friends with Lisa who is the wife of Sean's cousin Mike and that's how she heard about Sean. She needed a name and it was Sean's that popped into her head. Then Emma has the guts to go to Sean, explain the situation and ask for his help. LOL Loved it! He thinks she's "batshit crazy" and she knows it but I couldn't stop myself from cheering her on. What does she have to lose, right? Yes, she should have just come clean with her grandma but then, she wouldn't have met the sexy Sean Kowalski.

Of course after thinking it over, and thinking about how attractive he finds Emma, Sean agrees to be the pretend fiancé and work for Emma. This puts them together nearly 24/7 since he'll also be living in her house. And with Emma's grandmother Cat visiting, Emma and Sean find their pretending sliding into reality. I loved how they got to know each other, sometimes in an almost reluctant way with both thinking that it's only temporary until Cat goes back to Florida. In the beginning, Emma gives Sean a file about her likes, dislikes etc. Sean doesn't have a file but ends up using post-its in what turns out to be very romantic, not that it started out that way. They are this really cute couple that you want to see together because you just know they're meant to be.

There's a sweet secondary romance between Cat and her gentleman friend. I'm so glad Stacey included this romance. It showed how Cat had her own life to lead and didn't want to intrude in Emma's life but only wanted her granddaughter to be happy.

The Kowalskis are Sean's family and they are not at all shy about letting him know what they think of his current situation. I love this family! They are a humorous, boisterous, close family that have more than enough love to go around. While they are close with Sean, they didn't overtake the romance but they might have helped speed it along. Which was good since both Emma and Sean could be quite stubborn.

If you're looking for a contemporary series with sensational romances, laugh out loud humor and characters you come to love then this is the one to read. The whole series is a wonderful addition to the contemporary romance genre. I do hope we see more of Sean's siblings in future books. There is something about those Kowalskis that you can't help loving.

Rating: A

Books in this series ~

Exclusively Yours
Undeniably Yours
Yours to Keep

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Review: Aftertime

Sophie Littlefield
Aftertime/Book 1
Luna/February 22, 2011

From the back cover ~

The World is Gone.

Worse, So Is Her Daughter.

Awakening in a bleak landscape as scarred as her body, Cass Dollar vaguely recalls surviving something terrible. Having no idea how many weeks have passed, she slwoly realizes the horrifying truth: Ruthie has vanished.

And with her, nearly all of civilization. Where once-lush hills carried cars and commerce, the roads today see only cannibalistic Beaters - people turned hungry for human flesh by a government experiment gone wrong.

In a broken, barren California, Cass will undergo a harrowing quest to get Ruthie back. Few people trust an outsider, let alone a woman who became a zombie and somehow turned back, but she finds help from an enigmatic outlaw, Smoke. Smoke is her savior, and her safety.

For the Beaters are out there. And the humans grip at survival with their trigger fingers. Especially when they learn that she and Ruthie have become the most feared, and desired, of weapons in a brave new world...

The blurb is a little misleading. It makes it sound like civilization vanished when Ruthie did but when Cass wakes up alone in a field, it's actually been month since the world went to hell due to wars of bio-terrorism. Cass wakes up far from where she last saw Ruthie, not knowing how she got there and if Ruthie is okay. So begins Cass' journey back to the town where she last saw Ruthie.

Cass Dollar has one messed up life. She's a recovering alcoholic with a history of abuse at the hands of her stepfather. Her mother wasn't much better in that she didn't believe the abuse was happening. Cass' one bright spot in her life is her daughter Ruthie and she will do anything to get Ruthie back. Aside from finding out what happened to Ruthie and how it would all play out, I didn't have much emotional investment in Cass. In fact, no characters really pulled at me or kept my interest. It was the story and the world that kept me reading.

If you want to put the label of hero on a character, I guess Smoke would be it. His character is not very well developed and is kept at more of a secondary character status. Within hours of meeting Cass, Smoke has decided to help her in anyway he can. He was like a puppy, following her around into danger and leaving his "people" behind. I never could figure out why he was so quick to help Cass.

The Beaters - not zombies in the real sense of the word. To zombie purists, and I'm sure there are some out there, zombies are the dead come back to life. The Beaters are humans infected with a disease that makes them want to eat human flesh, preferably fresh. They did not die then come back to life, in fact, they are hard to kill. They infect with their bites so even if you manage to get away after getting bit, you're infected.

As Cass and Smoke search for Cass' daughter, they face many obstacles, most of the deadly variety. The survivors have begun to form groups, one calls themselves the Rebuilders. They use force to get results and take what they want. Smoke has a history with the Rebuilders and it's not a good one. Cass and Smoke do make there way to where they hope to find Ruthie and here's where the plot took a bizarre turn. It turns out religious zealots will always survive and Cass finds out just how crazy they can be. At this point I merely wanted to get to the end, with hopefully Cass and Ruthie reunited.

So, liked the world building for the most part. The characters less so. I didn't feel a connection with Cass and it's told from her POV. She's determined to find her daughter but then she would venture into these thoughts of how dying might just be easier. So which is it? Give up or keep going until she finds Ruthie? I didn't understand how she could even think of giving up when she had no idea if Ruthie was okay. I do hope we see greater character development in future books. Even with the problems and weak characters, Aftertime proved to be a quick read with potential for the rest of the series.

Rating: C

Books in this series ~

Survivors (free ebook)
Rebirth (July 26, 2011)
Horizon (February 2012)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: Divergent

Veronica Roth
Young Adult/Dystopian
1st in Trilogy
Harper Collins/May 3, 2011

From the inside cover ~

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are — and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

This, like many young adult novels is a hardcover, which in my house means it is a library book. Since I knew I wasn't going to get to it right away, I gave it to the teen to read. When she gave it back I asked what she thought. She said, "I read it in less than a day." Now, she's a fast reader but she's also taking summer school so she does have homework. Plus she has to spend time skyping and texting. So for her to read it that quickly, I took as a good sign. I didn't read it quite as fast but it did prove to be hard to put down. That's not to say I didn't have some issues but it's a story with a plot and characters are so compelling, it's easy to overlook those issues.

The world Beatrice inhabits is regimented with military precision. She, along with her parents and brother, are trained to think, act and be selfless. They are expected to put others needs first. To do with the minimal comforts and not indulge in excess. Beatrice tries so very hard to be a good little Abnegation but she struggles. She questions her place in her parents world and in society as a whole. To be so young, at sixteen, and have to decided your entire future is an overwhelming concept because once the choice is made there is no turning back. They must stick with their choice or become factionless. And being factionless for some is worse than death.

Once Beatrice makes her choice she becomes Tris to signify her new life. If I thought things were tense before the Choosing Ceremony, the reality is that things were about to get even more tense and stressful for Tris. I can see how some will compare Divergent to the Hunger Games trilogy but I think that's going to happen anytime you have children/teens in any type of ruthless competition.

The story is told from Tris' POV and while some may think that is limiting, I found it enthralling to see her experiencing so many different emotions and dealing with those emotions. She is a character that makes profound changes, letting her true self expand and be what she was meant to be. She has physical and psychological obstacles to overcome and she does them while still conflicted in her role in society. In seeing through Tris' eyes, we get to feel her deep emotions, her heartbreak and her loss. I loved how she evolved and you could see this taking place with each obstacle she overcame and each tough decision she made.

There is far more going on that just Tris' initiation. In a world that is so controlled it's not surprising that there will be cracks in that structure. Roth shows how change is inevitable in an environment and in people. I really liked how she developed the characters in showing their reactions to situations. Those reactions were not always what were expected and it made for fascinating reading. Tris is one whose development takes unexpected turns, surprising her but staying true to her beliefs.

I did mention that I had a few issues with the story. The first being that the society as a whole being so segmented with each member of each faction suppressing their emotions to only reflect that factions directive is unrealistic. It's unnatural which is the whole point and why it ultimately didn't work. So it wasn't to difficult to go with that mindset. It just surprised me that there wasn't more ongoing dissent. The other was the initiation and training, which could have gone a bit quicker. Then there was something that Tris did near the end that had me frustrated, irritated and angry. No spoilers but after everything she had been through and all the sacrifices then she does this! I didn't feel like it was in character with her at that point of the story.

There is a boy, of course, that catches Tris' interest. He's mysterious but it becomes pretty obvious who he really is. Tris is drawn to him and while there is a romance brewing, it stays fairly tame and thankfully didn't take over the main plot of the story. The other characters, who the reader gets to know as Tris gets to know them, are varied with their own unique characteristics, showing that not everyone can be categorized in the simplistic method of five factions.

I think the suspense of not knowing what these characters would have to face next and how they would react is what made this book hard to put down. The ending some might say is cliffhanger-ish. There is an ending but everything isn't tied up in a pretty bow. Which really shouldn't be expected in a dystopian novel. It's more of a ride off into the sunset, not knowing what's on the other side of the hill type of ending. There are two more books planned so we should see more of these characters and I look forward to finding out what happens next.

Rating: A-

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: Hounded

Kevin Hearne
Urban Fantasy
Iron Druid Chronicles/Book 1
Del Rey/May 3, 2011

From the back cover ~

Atticus O'Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old - when in actuality, he's twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he's hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power - plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish - to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

It took me a bit longer than I would have liked to get into this book but once I did, I found I really enjoyed it. There are plenty of life and death situations for Atticus but there is always this hint of humor either right on the edge or right in your face. At times it had a Buffy-esque feel to it. Atticus may be in a fierce battle for his life but still manages a few one liners. It's as if the author wanted me to take the story seriously but not too seriously.

The setting for Hounded takes place in my neck of the woods which I don't read too often. So when Atticus would mention where he was going and what direction he would take, I just had to reference my mental map of Tempe. LOL It was fun to see these character in places that I have been.

Atticus (love that name!) O'Sullivan is in a heap of trouble and so is his Irish Wolfhound Oberon. It starts with an attack, then a visit from a goddess and a heap of Fae thrown into the mix. But Atticus keeps his cool for the most part. He defeats his attackers, manages the clean up then heads off to work. He's playing the part of a young 20 something guy but given his real age and experiences, it's not surprising that he doesn't panic but instead makes plans on how to face the next threat. And Oberon isn't just his dog but his good friend. Atticus and Oberon can "talk" to each other in their heads. They have some interesting conversations with Oberon giving his unique observations on people and events. The more I got to know Atticus, the more I liked him. He gives off this earthy vibe which makes sense since he is bound to the earth by his magic.

There are several secondary characters to keep track of along with plots and sub-plots. The gods, goddess and Fae love to manipulate people and events to their liking. I didn't find it difficult to keep track of the characters but there were times when the narration became a little too heavy, making me look forward to the next fight scene. And there was always a next fight scene! Hearne does a wonderful job choreographing the fights.

The ending left plenty of room for expanding the world and the characters. There are a few secondary characters that I'm looking forward to reading more about in the next two releases. Mr. Hearne has written an absorbing novel filled with magic, sword fights and amusing dialogue that will leave the reader wanting more.

Rating: B

Books in this series ~


Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Indepence Day...

It's Independence Day here in the states. A day we like to have parades, cookout and shoot off illegal fireworks (looks towards neighbor's house). At my house we will be lazy because it's too hot to do much but jump in the pool. I might talk the boys into going to see the fireworks - there's a place we can see 3-4 different fireworks shows across the valley. Much of this depends on the weather since our monsoon season has started.

Those of you that celebrate today, I hope you have a wonderful day with family and friends. Good reading to everyone!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: Entwined

Elisabeth Naughton
Paranormal Romance
Eternal Guardians/Book 2
Love Spell/July 27, 2010

From the back cover ~

Zander - The most feared of all the Eternal Guardians. It's rumored he can't be killed, and he always fights like he has nothing to lose. But as a descendant of the famed hero Achilles, he's got to have a vulnerability...somewhere.

Forces of daemons are gathering and have broken through the barriers of the Underworld. Now more than ever the Eternal Guardians are needed to protect both their own realm and the human world. Zander can't afford to think about what might have been with the bewitching physician he once regarded as his soul mate. But with eternity stretching out before him, he also can't fathom spending his life without the one woman who makes him feel most alive. Perhaps he's found his weakness, after all...

After reading the first book in the series, Marked, I was curious about the world Naughton has created but I wasn't salivating to read the next book. I figured I'd get to it eventually. Well, almost a year after it's release and I finally did. And after reading Entwined, I can't wait for Tempted, book 3.

There's certainly a medieval feel to the world of the Guardians. The king rules the realm and has decided his daughter should wed one of the Argonauts. No one is happy with this news least of all the Argonauts. As the king's personal healer, Callia works in close proximity to the royal family, such as it is. She prefers to keep her distance from the Argonauts, specifically Zander, due to a painful past association. I liked Callia, she's an intelligent and independent woman in a very male dominant world. She suffered a terrible loss and has submersed herself in her work at the clinic, trying to forget everything she has lost. She had a very 21st century feel to her.

Zander thinks he is immortal and apparently being an ass comes with immortality. He's very alpha, of course, but he's got this attitude of how he was so wronged in the past by Callia that he doesn't even try to see her side. But... he's still got the hots for her. LOL And being a man, doesn't always think with his brain. His stubbornness in doing what he thinks is the right thing went too far. There were moments when I liked him, then he'd go back to being a stubborn asshat and I'd roll my eyes and think Callia could do better.

The secondary character of Isadora, the king's daughter, is turning into a favorite of mine. Her book is next so thankfully I won't have to wait long for it. She's a chameleon, playing at being the meek, shy princess while having a backbone of steel. She's already been through a horrible ordeal and will probably get into even more trouble in her book. Let's hope her hero has enough patience for her.

The plot is thick with tension, drama and action with Zander and Callia in the middle of it. The big bad is really bad and powerful. She's a sick bitch who enjoys torturing and killing and hates the Argonauts. Nothing like a power crazed whackjob and her daemon horde to spoil the mood. While I liked Callia far more than Zander, and the romance was interesting, I found myself wishing for more page time with Isadora rather than the hero and heroine.

Between the angst filled romance, the sub-plot with Isadora, courtly intrigue and the fight against evil, Entwined proved to be a solid addition to the series. And most importantly, it left me wanting more of the world of the Argonauts.

Rating: B

Books in this series ~

Tempted (September 1, 2011)